landfill

It appears that the European Union is about to foist upon us yet another near insane regulation:

Worse still, after a decade and more of needlessly increasing the cost of waste disposal, to the detriment of other public services, the European Commission has today produced a new legislative proposal which takes us into altogether new territory.

According to its press release, it plans to set a new target for recycling, requiring 70 percent of all municipal waste and 80 percent of packaging waste to be recycled by 2030, and totally to ban the landfill of recyclable waste by 2025, aiming “to virtually eliminate landfill” by 2030. At most, it will accept an irreducible minimum of five percent of waste, that cannot be recycled.

The institution seems to be in the grip of the misapprehension that more recycling is, in and of itself, a good thing. This is incorrect.

Some recycling is obviously and clearly a good thing: you can tell this because you make a profit by doing it. Melting down old cars to make new ones, collecting copper scrap, smelting old gold fillings to make new ones (yes, it does indeed happen) make profits. This is an indication that the activity itself has added value: we are all richer as a result of this having been done.

There are also things that it would be insane to try to recycle. It’s technically feasible, if you expend enough energy, to turn concrete back into cement. But it would be absurd to do so: better to bake some more cement.

Then there’s a third class: things that are not profitable to recycle themselves but which we would like to for other reasons. It’s not profitable to recycle most radioactive material but we’d also rather not have it lying around the countryside. Thus recycling it, even at a direct loss, might be a good idea for those more general reasons.

It’s important to have these three types in mind. In terms of household and general waste, recycling the metals in them does make sense financially and so they come under that first type. And it’s possible to argue that all of the other waste should be recycled for that second reason. We’re running out of landfill for example, or we’re running out of “resources” with which to make new stuff. But neither of those things is actually true. We’ve no shortage of suitable holes in the ground only of ones that anyone will licence. And there is no general shortage of “resources” at all. And, given that magic of markets thing, those that are in short supply are already in that first type of things worth recycling as their price is high.

We thus end up, as a result of the zealotry of some in the political system, with regulations like these new ones. Using incorrect type 3 arguments to force us into type 2 recycling, the type that makes us all poorer.